How Does Stress Cause Weight Gain?

Have you been under a great deal of stress lately?  Have you been struggling with your finances?  With your job?  Do you have ongoing struggles in your personal relationships?  Are you carrying a heavy load in school?

I frequently find that many of my patients will experience weight loss plateaus due to stress.  Patient’s frequently ask how this occurs.  The simple answer is this: our bodies are designed with a “fight or flight” response.  

If you’re in the woods and you stumble upon a bear, the sudden recognition of significant danger (you recognize that those extra few donuts will make you quite the tasty treat for the bear) will stimulate and immediate release of protective hormones into your blood stream including adrenaline and cortisol. Adrenaline increased your heart rate, dilates the blood vessels to your muscles and increases your respiratory rate.  Cortisol is the hormone that stimulates increased glycogen release from the liver.  Glycogen is a form of sugar made available so that you can immediately fight the bear or run from the bear, and the glycogen response raises your insulin level so that that fuel can be pulled right into the cells needing it.  The adrenalin and cortisol, among other hormones, are released so that blood can be shunted from your stomach and intestines to your muscles and brain to more effectively enable you to finish fighting the bear, or out run that drooling growling bear hot on your heels.

Most of us will never “stumble across a bear,” however, your boss may confront you about how you handled a recent assignment or may drop an extra pile of work on your desk.  You may run short on your finances this month, have a serious disagreement with your significant other, or someone may cut you off in traffic causing a near accident.  Any or all of these stimulate the identical “fight or flight” response. Whether the bear or the traffic, the same adrenalin and cortisol response occurs.

How does that keep you from loosing weight?  The elevated cortisol causes a cascade effect raising your insulin levels.  Insulin will remain effectively elevated in the blood stream for the next 4-12 hours.  Insulin is the primary hormone driving and stimulating weight gain.  If you’ve had 2 or 3 stressful events throughout the day, and you have not had the opportunity to burn off these stress response hormones, your body will store and/or continue to gain weight throughout the entire day.  If you have been trying to loose weight, the spike in insulin halts the weight burning process and may actually bump you out of ketosis (the process by which we burn fat as the primary fuel source) for the next 4-12 hours.
How do you prevent this from happening?  A simple 15-20 minute walk 3-5 times per week is enough to decrease the stress hormone surge that occurs from a “fight or flight” response.  Any regular exercise program will decrease these stress hormones.  Adequate sleep also decreases these hormones.
So, if your job is stressful, incorporating an exercise program as simple as a daily walk for 15-20 minutes per day will keep the proverbial “bear in the woods” from catching up to you because of your weight.

5 Comments on “How Does Stress Cause Weight Gain?

  1. Thanks for a marvelous posting! I genuinely enjoyed reading it, you can be a
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  2. Pingback: Common Ketosis Killers | The KetoDynamic Antidote

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  4. Hey Dr. Adam,
    I was searching for weight gain cause materials today and found this on your website.
    Thank you for this informative article. I will use some of its points to complete a new writing on my fitness blog.
    Again, thank you for this article!

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